A collaboration between a member of The Mars Volta (Omar Rodriguez-Lopez), one of the most chaotically out there progressive bands of the last twenty years, and two members of The Melvins (King Buzzo and Dale Crover), the godfathers of sludge-infused heavy music, holds great promise even before you add into the equation Teri Gender Bender, the enigmatic singer of Le Butcherettes who seems to channel the fiery personas of Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and Coutney Love in her wired performances with that band. The idea for Crystal Fairy came to life as a result of a tour featuring both The Melvins and Le Butcherettes, with the former joining the latter on stage for a rendition of ‘Rebel Girl’. The result is a vital new band that provides Teri with a sharp, suitably dangerous backing for her vocal exhortations and from the moment the opening number of ‘the chiseler’ detonates, it’s clear that all four musicians are playing with fire on this debut release.
‘The chiseler’ is the perfect introduction to the band’s punk-infused sound. A short, sharp shock to the system it combines Dale’s pounding percussive might with gruelling riffs and, over it all, Teri sings with the furious vigour that only comes from fronting a truly inspired rock ‘n’ roll band. This is Iggy, this is the Velvet Underground pouring white hot feedback over ‘Sister Ray’, this is Patti Smith unleashing ‘Gloria’ for the first time and there’s no mistaking the genuine synchronicity that the band share on this album. Heading into rather more psychedelic territory, ‘drugs on the Bus’ sees Teri’s vocals wreathed in mysterious layers of reverb in a manner that recalls P. J. Harvey only for the band to suddenly unleash a wall of toxic sludge that provides the perfect counterpoint to Teri. Like a coiled snake, deadly and waiting to pounce, her voice slithers between the molten distortion appearing beautiful at one moment, carrying the most exquisite of threats the next. A track in a more classic rock vein, ‘Necklace of divorce’ has an unexpectedly addictive riff and heavily distorted vocals which nod towards the early work of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Kills. It’s a genuine ear worm and it’s impressive to see so heavy a band deal in such killer hooks in the same moment. The sludge returns, however, for the dark, twisted ‘moth tongue’, a track which deals in Uber-Sabbath riffage and heavy metal mayhem. Awkward, angular guitars grind into the album’s title track, whilst twisted synth elements make you fear for the band’s collective sanity before the first half of the album concludes with the corrosive nightmare of ‘secret agent rat’, the darkest, grooviest song that King Buzzo has come up with since the devastating ‘night goat’.
The second half of the album appears with a stuttering riff overlaid with synth elements and an air of child-like wonder. Like Alice through the looking glass, it’s clear that nothing in the world of Crystal Fairy is quite as it seems, and ‘Under trouble’ is a highlight precisely because it cuts so savagely against the expected grain. Having been lulled into a sense of false security, ‘Bent teeth’ is as brutal as it gets and it feels all the more shockingly sadistic in following the nimble ‘under trouble’, whilst the thunderous, tribal ‘Posesion’ shows that Dale Crover has lost none of his ability to overwhelm from behind the kit when the mood so takes him. Part metallic assault, part tribute to the twisted surf-pop of the 1950s, ‘Posesion’ feels like a duet in hell between Teri and Elvis and it is every bit as awesome as such a collaboration might imply. Edging into alternative rock territory, ‘Sweet self’ is a gritty track that cuts back on the volume allowing Teri’s vocals to truly shine before the album concludes with the blistering ‘Vampire X-Mass’, the massively over-driven guitars threatening to implode at any moment as the band hammer their respective instruments into submission in a track that lasts just a little over two minutes.
With such a lineage, the Crystal Fairy’s really had to deliver on this debut album and there is no question that they did. The album has plenty of precedent in the twisted underground of American Rock music, but what marks it out as something special is the vibrant delivery of the band as a whole and Teri in particular. Her vocals are stunning throughout and she is capable of shifting from childlike wonder to deadly intent on a knife edge, always maintaining an air of threat just beneath the surface. Close your eyes, drift away and you’ll be transported to a time when punk rock ruled the airwaves and when musicians were called artists for a reason. 9